Free Internet Services

Bob Seitz

Free Internet Service Providers

    There are now several free ($0 per month) Internet service providers available in the U. S. and Canada. These service providers are supported by advertising revenue, and the price you pay for free Internet access is an advertising marquee that must be displayed on your screen whenever you are on the Internet. (The key to this is a large-screen monitor, so that the marquee doesn't interfere any more than necessary.)
    NetZero (www.NetZero.com) is the best-known free service provider, but available only in the U. S., and is not yet available on Macintoshes. I first began using it last summer. I had another $25 a month Internet service running at the same time, but later, I relied solely on NetZero. It's not bad, and it's getting better. Last summer, when Tommie and I vacationed in the mountains of North Georgia, I was able to access NetZero using a local number... something I couldn't do through my paid ISP. In the meantime, some big guys have gotten ino the act.
    Altavista is sponsoring a free Internet service called "Free Access", available at (http://microav.com/), and, unlike NetZero, available throughout the U. S. and Canada. Like NetZero, Altavista can't access newsgroups, and isn't yet available for Macintoshes. Additional information may also be found at the Altavista home site at http://www.altavista.com). Neither NetZero nor Altavista supports wideband access at this time.
    Not to be outflanked, Excite is offering a competing free Internet service at (http://freeworld.excite.com/freeworld/), also available throughout the U. S. and Canada, and also unable to support wideband or newsgroups yet.
    K-Mart and Yahoo have teamed up to offer their own free Internet service at (http://www.bluelight.com/isp.html).
    In the meantime, Walmart and AOL have joined forces to offer some Internet package that will be announced shortly.
 
 

Free Wideband Access to Free Internet Service

    All of the above free Internet Service Providers (ISPs) say that they are working on providing their customers with wideband access. In the meantime, one company, the Broadband Digital Group, at (www.freedsl.com), is signing up users now for an April debut of free wideband DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service. As usual, it's supported by advertising. I have signed up for it, and the advertising banner from them that's running now on my desktop is 3/8" long by 6.25" wide--much better than the other free Internet-service marquees. I'm currently using BellSouth's A (Asymmetric) DSL service, with downloads speeds up to 50 kilobytes (400 kilobits) per second. It's typically 10 or more times faster than a 56k modem.
 
 

Free Long Distance Telephone Service

    There are a number of free software packages that afford long-distance telephone service over the Internet from computer-to-computer, but they require that the users be on their computers simultaneously at both ends of the telephone circuit. However, Dialpad (www.dialpad.com) requires that the originator of the call be on a computer, but calls can be made to any telephone in the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska. I'm now using Dialpad exclusively for all our long-distance telephone calls. Our long-distance phone bill is now zero. (Dialpad opened for business last October 18th. As of Febraury 10th, they had more than 3,000,000 customers. Hawaii was as clear as a bell.) Dialpad has announced that it will go international this year. It's possible that numbers in Canada may already be accessible. I would expect that Western Europe would come next, followed by other parts of the world. Like these other free services, Dialpad is supported by advertising revenue. Dialpad is using the GTE fiber-optic backbone to carry its long distance telephone calls.
    There can be some choppiness using Dialpad because Internet servers are designed for packet, rather than continuous transmission. However, this should improve, as servers are upgraded to accommodate such functions. On the other hand, Dialpad is growing like Topsy, and it might experience growing pains. But the price is right. I use a head-mounted microphone that came with my speech-recognition software. That purportedly helps to hold down "speakerphone echo". However, any microphone will work, though it would probably be worthwhile to "tune" one's system to minimize speaker-to-microphone feedback.
    It probably won't be long before you can buy telephones designed for free long-distance service over the Internet. Talk about the global village!